Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones
Copper Canyon Press
I first encountered Lucia Perillo when I was an in-house poetry intern at Copper Canyon Press, in January of 2012. I’d been in the small, wooden archives, dusting new shipments of books, cutting satisfyingly thick paper for mail orders, and breathing in the heady air of dust and ink. Suddenly, I saw a cover with an erratic jumble of color across the front, Inseminating the Elephant across the spine. It became my lunchtime book that day, and the day after, and the day after. And now, it’s old enough to become a hard-time book, a bath-time book, a friend-time book. “The cover looks that way because it is actually a painting done by an elephant,” the managing editor had told me. “And welcome to the press.”
Later that month, I got to see her read with Louise Gluck, and when she paused by our table of Copper Canyon leaflets, I fumbled with my words. “You can have a pen, because you’re one of our writers,” I tried to joke. It fell flat, and she looked at me quizzically, a little suspiciously. “Did you get to meet the elephants?” I finally said. I don’t remember her answer, I think because her answer wasn’t the focus. The question was.
Which is how good poetry is—the answer isn’t the objective. And for Perillo, whose work startles and starts, dares and confronts, her work is all about understanding the complexities of starkness; because her poems deal so much with the body (her own chronic illness, the desexualization of disabled bodies, feminism, rape culture, mental illness, and the insurmountable act of trying to be okay in the world), they have no choice but to embrace inconsistency.
When her galley copy of On a Spectrum of Possible Deaths came out, I was gifted one even though I wasn’t in-house anymore, and had graduated to a big-girl poetry editor, working remotely from my kitchen in Oakland. I inhaled it, allowing myself to stop and start—and still, in her poem “Panic Attack,” I think about the concept of calming oneself during an attack in a supermarket. How many wars could be prevented, Perillo muses, if men had thought to lay their heads on a cool melon?
Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones, another knockout with an enviable title, is no different—full of questions with duplicitous and counter-intuitive possibilities, political polemics, and bodily complications, the book sears, seeks, and destroys. I found myself reading it the way I have read all of her poetry—ravenously, as if hunger itself could make me full. In "Inseminator Man," she writes this:
I had this idea the world did not need men:
not that we would have to kill them personally,
but through our sustained negligence they would soon die off
like houseplants. When I pictured the afterlife
it was like an illustration in one of those Jehovah’s Witness magazines,
all of us, cows and women, marching on a promised land
colored that luminous green and disencumbered by breasts. (47)
How, I remember thinking, still think, will always think—can a person sustain that sharpness and intensity for so long, with such a large and complicated body of work? The answer isn’t an answer at all, but a call to think of landscape. If we raise the questions of the body and brain and all of their respective failure, the avenues are plentiful and the options endless. And there, Lucia Perillo has made her voice.
Westhale is a poet and essayist living in Oakland, CA. She is the author of The Cavalcade, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, and has poems in Cimarron, cahoodaloodaling, burntdistrict, and Quarterly West, among others. She has been awarded grants and residencies from the Vermont Studio Center, Sewanee, Dickinson House, Tin House, and Bread Loaf. www.julywesthale.com